In Response to Anti-Choice Claims, Rep. Dawnna Dukes Makes Abortion Public

Dukes counters abortion "mistruth" with personal admission

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes.
State Rep. Dawnna Dukes. (by Photo by Mary Tuma)

During a heated women’s health panel, coordinated by the Texas Tribune Festival, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, unexpectedly revealed she had an abortion.

Misinformation from fellow panelist and likely future legislative colleague, Molly White, catalyzed the admission. White, a Belton Republican running unopposed in Texas House District 55, asserted women who had undergone abortion were prone to drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide. White said she was speaking from experience, having had two abortions that resulted in drug and alcohol abuse.

While Dukes sought to refute those claims, White shot back that women who hadn’t experienced abortion could not truly understand or credibly argue against the negative impact of the procedure. That’s when Dukes, growing noticeably frustrated, said, “To the world, I had an abortion,” and pointed to herself as proof that it’s erroneous to assume women who had abortion were unstable, psychologically damaged or drug-dependent, drawing an eruption of applause and cheers from the audience. And those who are, need counseling for reasons separate from their choice to abort, she said.

Following the Saturday afternoon panel at the University of Texas at Austin, Dukes told the Chronicle's Newsdesk she had not planned to make the revelation – in fact, it was the first time she had made the news public. “My parents don’t even know it,” said Dukes.

“It was never my intent to come out with it, but don’t sit here and insult every single person who has had an abortion,” said the Austin rep, referring to White. “To suggest women who had abortion end up with breast cancer or some psychological problem is just BS.”

Those claims are often peddled by anti-choice advocates and widely discredited by major medical organizations such as the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Cancer Society. (Vincent Rue, the architect of the false link between abortion and psychological disorders, was recently hired by the Texas Attorney General’s office to help defend abortion restrictive law, House Bill 2.)

White can count herself among ardent anti-choice activists – she previously served as a legislative director for Operation Outcry, a group dedicated to reversing Roe v. Wade and ending abortion by “mobilizing women and men hurt by abortion” to share their stories of the procedure’s “devastating effects.” White also founded nonprofit Women for Life International, an anti-abortion network that actively opposes “feminist organizations” that promote comprehensive sex ed and the “guarantee that sexual and reproductive rights as human rights are fully recognized and fulfilled.” Family planning, reproductive rights, and “safe sex propaganda” are the “greatest hoaxes ever devised against women and families,” White’s organization writes.

Whether she intended to or not, Dukes now joins other women lawmakers who have recently come out with their personal abortion stories amid a climate of political hostility toward reproductive rights, including state Senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, Nevada state Rep. Lucy Flores.

On Sunday, Dukes – who is seeing a flurry of gratitude from constituents for her frank admission – shared a lengthy message with Facebook followers regarding the impromptu disclosure. It reads, in part:

“If my constituents' right to choose to have an abortion or decision to carry full term is protected by my disclosure, then I have done my job as a Legislator representing them in the Texas House of Representatives in order that they do not have to accept the stigmatism and shame that some try to put upon them for similar decisions. Nor do my constituents or women have to accept the mistruth that such procedures lead to alcoholism, drug addiction, suicidal thoughts, or is only done by promiscuous women because of promiscuous behavior.”

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Rep. Dawnna Dukes, Abortion

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